Cover makeover: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles

“Tales” is a three novella anthology in the Gunpowder Chronicles world which released in 2019. I originally requested an “object” cover since it was an anthology and the cover that Deranged Doctor Design came up with was amazing. There’s a library with a scroll and an opium-looking pipe with a dragon design. Steampunk-y gears in the background and the whole thing was awash in gold. :

Original cover: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles- library with desk and scroll with red ribbon

Despite getting everything that I asked for and more, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed as I had when I saw the previous covers. After spending some time watching the reader response and sales, I could sense that there was a similar lack of enthusiasm. Beautiful cover, but wasn’t quite drawing readers in.

Undaunted, I thought — alright, let’s try a 3D box set so readers know they’re getting three stories in one volume.

3D Box set: Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles cover with library and scroll + 3 spines showing in the box: Big Trouble in Old Shanghai, Island of the Opium Eaters, Love in the Time of Engines

Then a little research and word on the street showed that other fantasy authors had been through this as well and overwhelmingly preferred “character” covers to object covers. Lesson learned!

I didn’t have much time to test out the 3D cover because I had already enlisted DDD to re-vamp the cover. I provided some character details and sample models and suggested that multiple heroines could be depicted on the cover. The concept design they came up with was AMAZING. Look at those costumes — they were not a part of the original model photos.

Mockup version of cover: Two heroines with Chinese courtyard in background and gears in sky. Girl with glasses holding book on left, girl in armor with weapons looking down on right

I was just in LOVE with the girl with the glasses. Isn’t she awesome? And they have her holding a book too — my little geek heart was going pitter-patter. I thought she was a perfect depiction of studious Anlei in “Love in the Time of Engines”.

I loved this cover as well. The colors, the mood. That backdrop is amazing with the Chinese courtyard and the gears above it. But the two ladies might imply a sapphic story, and I didn’t want to confuse readers.

It seemed other authors were also wrestling with how to depict anthologies as some vendors prefer or even require 2D covers. So I requested that the designer move to a triptych design and the final design, once again, blew me away.

Final version of cover: Three heroines in three color bands, blue, orange, green. Girl in suit with weapons, girl with glasses holding book, girl in leather with two knives.

The cover totally reminds me of a superhero movie poster. I call it my girl power cover. It depicts three different stories with three very different heroines.

I might play with a 3D box version of this cover, but for now I’m going to try this makeover out and see if it makes people stop and click.

Tale of the Drunken Sword: Writing from a Place of Joy

Book cover: Tale of the Drunken Sword. Asian woman in white dress with sword at her side surrounded by red autumn leavesOnce in a while you get a story that feels like a gift. The story flows together and it’s an absolute joy to put down the words.

It’s a rare occurrence for me. I mean, I love writing and enjoy each novel or short story. I enjoy the work that goes into it and how much effort it takes to smooth out a rough draft to make it into something close to what I envisioned. But occasionally, the story feels, not like work, but like play. From start to finish.

That’s how writing Tale of the Drunken Sword felt to me. It was an idea that had been percolating for some time and I let my head pick it up shortly after leaving the stressful day job. Writing this story was a celebration.

I used to take piano lessons starting in elementary school and through high school. (Surprise, stereotypical Asian?) I was never particularly good at it. I’ve always noticed that people like my sister have a different relationship to music. The way she heard songs and even the way she processed sound seemed to have so much more to it than when I listened to music. This was long before she took up piano lessons again and became the awesome pianist that she is now.

It was always work for me to play the piano. Work that I liked, but work nonetheless. And that’s probably why I quit when the going got tough.

There was this one time, a couple years in, when I was playing a song for my piano teacher and afterwards she asked me if I loved playing the piano. I told her I did. (I actually asked my mother for piano lessons, not the other way around. And then she made my brother and sister take lessons too because, heck, she already bought a whole piano for me.)

My teacher said the way I played that song made her feel that I really loved playing. Most of my piano lesson memories were of heavy sighs and getting the same song re-assigned week after week because it was obvious I hadn’t practiced enough. And me scraping by the annual Guild and Certificate of Merit tests because I could wing the theory even if my playing was only so-so.

But I always remembered that compliment because I did really love it. Or I loved it when I could play — but it just wasn’t so easy to just play every song.

As I was finishing the edits to Tale of the Drunken Sword, I typed in a fix to a sentence and I noticed how my fingers rolled off the keys. Even as clunky of as I was of a pianist, I have the muscle memory. I did play for years and years.

It felt like I was at a piano playing a song, the way my hands were moving.

I’m writing this down now in my cognitive science way of trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Because when this happens, it is as rare as lightning striking. The desire to try to hold onto the magic and save it for “next time” is so strong.

Writing is a lot of work for me but sometimes my writing brain will turn off. And I can hear the music.

Tale of the Drunken Sword is a short wuxia swordfight fantasy that’s full of awesome. Great for a one-hour read over lunch break.

You can buy it here:

Amazon | Kobo | iBook | Nook | Gumroad (alt for .mobi)